Building Resilience Essential to Weather Storms Ahead

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
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Do you think Australia has a spare trillion dollars in our back pocket?  

We may need it if we don’t start making our built environment more resilient. That’s because the estimated costs to fix projected damage to our buildings and infrastructure caused by climate change and extreme weather events over the coming decades are well into 13 figures.

The science is in on climate change, with temperatures around the world beginning to rise and further rises inevitable. Sea level rises are on the way, and the impacts of extreme weather events like bushfire, flood and storms are already being felt around Australia. That makes resilience an increasingly important consideration for our built environment.

A failure to plan for the future we know is coming means the cost could be high. According to recent research by the CSIRO, the real replacement value of buildings exposed to bushfires, inland flooding and coastal inundation could almost double by 2100, to up to $1.38 trillion. That doesn’t include infrastructure, which would add further trillions to this bill.

With climate change related issues coming up more and more often in planning decisions, and the cost of natural disasters rising, state governments around the country are starting to respond to the need for increased resilience. Mapping and information sharing are important tools to create resilience, and the NSW government has used them to great effect in creating the AdaptNSW program. The program has led regional climate change modelling and is now beginning to publish results aimed at local councils, government agencies, NGOs, research, and industry.

It’s obvious to anyone that a building that isn’t properly fortified isn’t going to be very resilient. Neither is one that hasn’t been properly designed, or one that lacks basic services. Resilience, for any building, is a function of all components working together in a smart, strategic way. In the same way, constructing resilience for Australia’s building stock is going to need input from all the players in that landscape, including developers, architects, builders, designers, planners, surveyors, facility managers and tradespeople.

There are five crucial actions that industry players need to take:

Talk to government. First of all, we need to engage with government on the issue of resilience. That includes working with governments to create ways to measure resilience so we know where we are now, what we’re aiming for in the future, and can tell when we’ve got where we need to be.

Share what works. We’ll also need to share our successes by developing case studies and demonstration projects that showcase strategies for adaptation and resilience.

Give feedback on incentives. It’s essential to let governments know, loud and clear, what’s working in terms of incentive packages. These need to be targeted correctly and provide real incentive to market activities.

Share intelligence on regulation. We’ve got a vital role in letting government know when regulation is a barrier to adaptation and resilience strategy implementation.

Review the Code. Only regular reviews of the National Construction Code of Australia and its supporting standards, regulations and development processes can ensure that climate change adaptation issues, and industry innovation are addressed.

Fortunately, there’s a good prediction that can be made alongside all the projections of storms, fires, floods and rising temperatures. Where the risks are high, the benefits of addressing them in a coordinated, timely way are also high. If Australia’s building industry can work with governments to take the action that’s required to make our built environment truly resilient, we’ll all reap the rewards.

A resilient built environment will help to underpin a resilient economy, society and environment, meaning that we’ll all be better placed to weather the storms ahead.

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